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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

Look inside Nissim Dahan's book Selling a Vision of Hope with Google Books.

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Vision of Hope
Category >> moderate majority
file under: terrorismreligionmoderate majorityextremism 16 Oct 2008 6:36 PM
Islam: A Religion of Peace? Posted by Nissim Dahan
I attended a debate recently. The issue: Is Islam a Religion of Peace, and is Shariah, or Islamic law, consistent with the U.S. Constitution? Arguing in the affirmative was Suhail, whom I would consider a moderate Muslim. Arguing in the negative was Frank, an American who considers Islam to be a threat to Western civilization. The following is an abridged version of the actual debate. See what you think.

 

Suhail: The U.S. Constitution protects us all from discrimination on the basis of religious belief. All faiths are American faiths, and are protected. There are no religious tests here, and American Muslims have integrated themselves into American life. They serve their country, even in the military. Muslims respect Jews and Christians as "people of the book," and all three religions worship the same God of Abraham. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, and play by the rules. Racists want hate, not the truth. They say that Islam is violent, but similar racist remarks were said about Catholics and Jews. Anti-Muslim is Anti-Semitism on training wheels. Many Muslims condemned 9/11. Racist rhetoric leads to violence, and we must not succumb to prejudice.

 

Frank: I look at this from a national security perspective. The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Shariah law finds its roots in the Quran. There is a principle in the Quran called "abrogation" (Sura 2:106) by which earlier Quranic passages, which are more tolerant of other religions, are superseded by later passages. Therefore, the Medina passages, which are extreme and intolerant, are seen by the Islamic authorities as replacing previous passages. "Fight and slay the unbelievers where you find them." "Fight them, even the people of the book." "Take not the Jews or Christians for your friends..." The early, peaceful passages are superseded by these Medina passages, and are a part of the directive to assure the triumph of Islam. This is according to the 4 Sunni schools, and the Shia schools as well. It is God's will for Islam to rule the world and Jihad is the obligation of all Muslims. If you disagree, you are an apostate. Ultimately, Jihad will call for violence, but until that is possible, a "soft Jihad" is recommended, by which Muslim are to work from within to destroy Western civilization, so that Allah's religion is made supreme. Therefore, some Muslims are a 5th column which promotes the destruction of the Constitution in the form of Shariah law.

 

Suhail: "Abrogation" is generally not accepted, except by terrorists and racists. All religions contain perverse passages in Holy Scripture, exhorting people to violence. The Medina period was a time of war, which explains the Prophet's rhetoric. History proves that Islam was tolerant of other religions. Mainstream Muslims believe in peace. Shariah is interpretive law, and is not dogmatic. The word "Jihad" conflates Islam with politics, which is what Bin Laden wants. People who support terrorism do so for political reasons. People who oppose terrorism do so for religious reasons. We should not give our religion to the terrorists. We cannot allow the terrorists to set the agenda with regard to religious belief.

 

Frank: As part of its "soft Jihad" agenda, the Muslim Brotherhood seeks the following:

1. To dominate Muslims, to radicalize them, and to recruit them to Jihad.

2. To intimidate opponents.

3. To create parallel societies, with their own sets of laws, preferential arrangements, dress codes, etc., by which Shariah is used to subvert the U.S. Constitution.

 

Sahriah is a very strict regiment in 75% of U.S. mosques. The "stealth" or "soft" Jihad will eventually lead to violent Jihad.

 

Suhail: Terrorists are trying to co-opt Islam. I don't want to give them my religion. Mainstream Muslims are not extreme, and wearing a headscarf is no "soft Jihad." People should be able to practice their faith without being suspect.

 

Frank: Other religions, like Judaism and Christianity, acknowledge the national authority of the state. Shariah does not. All the recognized authoritative Islamic sources endorse using Shariah to displace secular law. Islam seeks to curb free speech in order to stop criticism.

 

Suhail: Islam is an interpretive law. You interpret it for the land you live in.

 

Frank: Shariah is not a matter on interpretation. Non-Muslims will have 3 choices: 1. Accept Islam, 2. Accept dhimmitude status, or 3. Die. It's not just Al Qaeda's whack interpretation. No. Al Qaeda reflects authoritative Islam.

 

Suhail: Is there a clash of civilizations? No. It's a clash between those who believe in civilization, and those, like the terrorists, who don't. Three Muslim countries elected women as heads of state. Most Muslims are comfortable with modernity. The terrorists are not manifesting Islam, and should not be allowed to set the agenda. When Jews were persecuted by the Christians, where did they go? To Muslim states. Many scholars interpret Shariah as consistent with the Constitution and with modernity.

 

Frank: Many moderate Muslims reject Shariah, but Wahabbis are winning in many areas. They will extinguish the moderate practice of Islam. Islam is waging Jihad against the civilized world. It's not just the extremists. The mainstream accepts this authoritative version of the faith. Just look at the authoritative texts. Our country is on the line.

 

Suhail: You see before you two worldviews, extreme and moderate. It's up to you to decide. Bin Laden, and other racists like him, foster hate. Terrorism is political, not religious. Faith brings strength to America, and all faiths should be allowed to participate in American democracy.

 

Frank: We are confronting a dangerous ideology bent on our destruction. A 5th column is working to do us in and we should fight back. This ideology wants to impose Shariah on the whole world. It's not just Bin Laden who says this. The authoritative interpretations of Islam concur. Our only hope is to mobilize the support of Muslim moderates against the supporters of Shariah.

 

Who do you think is right? Or could they both be right and wrong at the same time?

file under: transitionpeacemoderate majorityfrom hate to hopeforeign policyeconomic developmentcommon sensecharitable investment 28 May 2008 6:34 PM
If you were Barack Obama, how would you Sell a Vision of Hope for the Middle East? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Given the choice, most voters would rather forget about the Middle East. With so many pressing problems here at home, it is hard to keep worrying about that precarious place. But the Middle East is not easily forgotten. In the first place, our oil supply, which continues to fuel our economy until we find feasible alternatives, requires a measure of stability in the region. And in the second place, John McCain has stated repeatedly that the threat of Islamic extremism is the transcendent issue of our time. So how should Senator Obama speak about the Middle East, so as to inspire Americans with a sense of hope in that regard, and so as to meet the challenges he will face from Republicans on this important issue?

 

Americans are responding enthusiastically to Senator Obama's call for hope and change. Along these same lines, there is no reason why a message of hope and change cannot include the Middle East as well. In fact, Senator Obama would be well advised to give substance to his message of hope and change by selling Americans, and people around the world, on a Vision of Hope for the Middle East. In a very real sense, if people can become inspired with hope when it comes to the precarious Middle East, then they could definitely become inspired about a whole host of other issues, which are a lot less contentious. So let the Middle East be the test for the possibility of hope.

 

Keeping all this in mind, how would you go about inspiring people with a Vision of Hope for the Middle East?

 

Selling a Vision of Hope has five parts to it, like the five fingers of your hand:

 

The thumb is for Ideology:  The world, which is increasingly becoming globalized economically and technologically, is ready for a new ideological framework-an Ideology of Common Sense-based on universal principles of common sense;  by which we speak to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity. Instead of believing what we want to believe, it is time to start believing in what makes sense. In a more perfect world, common sense will inspire our thinking and inform our speech. How do wed begin to come together?  In our fractured world, common sense is the common denominator.

 

The index finger if for Investment: We should invest in one another to create good paying jobs which inspire a sense of hope, which protect the environment, and which help to neutralize ideological extremism. If the West is good at anything it is making and investing money. Why not use this strength as part of our strategic arsenal to promote the peace and to defeat extremism? We can use public and private funds to create an International Fund for Economic Development in the Middle East, under the banner, "We stand ready to invest in you, if you are ready to invest in yourselves." Good paying jobs there could create good paying jobs here at home, by opening up new markets for our goods and services. And with green technology jobs, we could help convert oil profits into green profits, and begin to clean up the environment as well.

 

The middle finger is for Hope: We could use an Ideology of Common Sense along with some well placed Investment Dollars to sell a Vision of Hope-a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom-on the Arab street, in the Muslim world, and in the world as a whole. Einstein came up with E=mc2. Thankfully, the formula for world peace is a lot simpler: Ideology plus Investment equals Hope, and with hope, all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace.

 

The ring finger is for Public Diplomacy: Once you sell a Vision of Hope, it becomes important to sustain the vision, by launching a series of Public Diplomacy Programs which are specifically designed to prop the vision up and to carry it forward, such as: a Media Campaign, a program to Empower Women, a Student Exchange, a Cultural Exchange, an expanded version of the Peace Corps, and a series of International Conferences on economics, religion, and education.

 

Take, for example, the program to Empower Women. Empower women in the Middle East, in ways that they deem appropriate, and you will have changed the face of the Middle East. Who are women? They are the givers of life and the caretakers of life, and as such are uniquely qualified to reconstitute their societies consistent with a Vision of Hope.

 

The pinky is for the willingness to Fight: If we already have to fight against ideological extremism, and we do, then we should fight, and fight hard, but we should position the fight within a Vision of Hope. We should elevate the fight on the ground to a higher moral plain, by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose. People will fight harder once they know what they're fighting for. We're not fighting a war against terror. We're fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There's a big difference.

 

 

By speaking this way, Senator Obama will neutralize any attempt to cast him as soft on terror, while at the same time inspiring a sense of hope for the Middle East. In effect, he will empower our nation to face the ideological extremists head on. Selling a Vision of Hope is a way of beating the extremists at their own game, of doing what they do only better, of co-opting their strategy and thereby marginalizing them in the eyes of their own people.

 

If the extremists are ideological about violent Jihad, we will be ideological about Common Sense. If they invest peanuts in charitable handouts, we will invest some serious dollars in jobs. If they sell a vision of hope for 72 virgins, or martyrdom, or paradise, or a caliphate, or what have you, we will sell a Vision of Hope for Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom.

 

At every turn, we will cut them off at the pass, and beat them at their own game. We will marginalize them in the eyes of their own people. They will become pariahs in the midst and will come to know the loneliness of being out of step with the will of the people. The will of the people will not be deterred. In the final analysis, the ideological extremists will not be able to capture the public's imagination, once people begin to imagine the possibility of a better life for themselves.

 

Ask yourself this: Where will peace ultimately come from? When all is said and done, peace will come from the heart and the mind of the man on the street. We can win his mind by speaking to him with Common Sense and with a sense of personal dignity. We can win his heart by investing in him-by giving him a place at the table, a stake in his future. And we can win the peace by selling him on a Vision of Hope. Give the man on the street a sense of hope and you will have turned the corner on world peace. Nothing less will suffice, and nothing more is needed.

 

As Barack Obama is suggesting, start with a vision, a big Vision of Hope. Give it some substance on the ground. And soon enough, the reality on the ground will fill up the space created by the vision. Such is the dynamic for change in the world, and such is the prescription for change in the Middle East. This may well be the time, before time runs out, to dream the impossible, and to make the impossible come true.

 

For more information, please visit our website at www.sellingavisionofhope.org

file under: Saudi Arabiapeacenational defensemoneymoderate majorityhuman rightsglobal warmingfrom hate to hopeeconomic development 5 May 2008 9:12 PM
ISRAEL@60: A Light Unto The Nations? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Sixty years have passed since the founding of the State of Israel, and it is fitting, therefore, to look back and to assess. Since her founding, the expectation was that the Jewish State would become "A Light Unto the Nations," in keeping with biblical prophesies to that effect. Has this hope been realized, or has Israel failed to measure up to the hopes of its founders?

 

In many respects, the light of Israel has shined brightly for the world to behold. Due in large part to the boundless courage of her defenders, she came into being out of the ashes of the Holocaust, and in spite of a concerted and protracted effort to destroy her. She nurtured and sustained a vibrant democracy even in the face of persistent and existential threats to her security. She prospered economically using very few natural resources, save the natural resourcefulness of her citizenry. She successfully absorbed disproportionately high numbers of refugees with open and loving arms. She has pioneered untold advances in science and technology, while holding fast to a love of art and culture. In these, and many other ways, Israel's accomplishments can be considered A Light Unto The Nations.

 

And yet, Israel's history remains a mixed bag of good and bad, as is the case with almost all nations on earth. Each accomplishment is offset by a detriment of sorts. True, she has met the security challenges forcefully, but at the expense of occupying and subduing a neighboring population which feels hopeless and dispossessed. True, she has prospered economically, but at the expense of an increasingly wider gap between the haves and the have-nots. True, she maintains a vibrant democracy, but at the expense of a contentious vying for power between secular and religious Jews, and between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority within its borders.

 

At every turn, each success is countered by an equally significant threat, either from within, or from without. It is as if the path to Israel's perfection is lined with a multitude of impediments, like a ship passing in the night through treacherous waters teeming with hidden mines and explosives. In this regard, Israel's light does not always shine as a beacon of hope, but as the light of a lighthouse, pointing to unseen dangers, and lighting the way toward a safe passage.

 

The threats to Israel, as she turns 60, are the threats we all face in this increasingly globalized world: How do we usher in an age of peace in the face of ideological extremism which is hell bent on war? How do we defend our way of life, when extremist elements are aligning to take that life away? How do we empower the dispossessed with a Vision of Hope for the future, when that vision seems to be slipping away? How do we close the gap between the wealthy few, and the impoverished many? How do we prosper economically while protecting the health and sanctity of our environment? How do we defend ourselves militarily without dashing the hopes and aspirations of the innocent? How do we advance scientifically and technologically without losing sight of the values and emotions which make us human?

 

The answer to these and other questions rests in the promise that Israel offers as she forges ahead toward the next 60 years. And the answer she comes up with can shine a light for others to follow. And what would that answer look like? It's not all that complicated: Israel will use her technology, her knowledge, her drive, and her inclination toward business, to partner with Arab entrepreneurs, to solicit Saudi investment, to hire and train Arab workers, to produce green technology products, to clean the earth, and to safeguard our place upon it. The answer is staring us in the face, if we care to look; Good- paying jobs, aimed at green technology products, with the ultimate goals of: revitalizing the stagnant economies of the Middle East, conditioning people for peace, neutralizing the effects of extremist ideology, protecting the environment, and giving the impoverished and the dispossessed a helping hand out of the clutches of extreme poverty and hopelessness. All this can be done, believe it or not, while enabling all concerned to turn a healthy profit.

 

With God's help, Israel will continue to shine her light unto the nations. Every once in a while her light will shine with pride; the pride born of success. But more often than not, Israel will have no choice but to face the same challenges that all nations now face in this, the 21st century. And in that struggle, she will continue to shine her light, to point to the dangers which lie ahead, and to point to solutions which are effective, equitable, and just. In this manner, Israel will truly fulfill her destiny to shine as A Light Unto The Nations.

file under: peacenational defensemoderate majorityhuman rightsfrom hate to hopeextremistseconomic development 3 Mar 2008 8:28 PM
Is Gaza More Than Gaza? Posted by Nissim Dahan
The Middle East is a symbolic place. One thing means another thing, and nothing is quite as it seems. The recent fighting in Gaza can be explained on its face, but it too could be symbolic of a much wider struggle.

 

Why did Israel decide to respond, as she did, at this particular time? Let's look for the simple answer first. Since Hamas took over the Gaza strip in mid-June, over 800 rockets and over 900 mortar bombs have been fired at Israeli towns like Sderot. A number of injuries have occurred, but these rockets were a bit primitive in design, had a limited range of 3 to 10 kilometers, and have been referred to as "homemade."

 

However, in the last several days, some 15 heavy rockets known as Katyushas were fired from Gaza against Israel's southern port city of Ashkelon. This rocket, which was used by Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War, has a range of 22 kilometers, and would expose 250,000 Israeli civilians to the threat of attack from Hamas.

 

We could argue back and forth as to what kind of provocation is enough to force a country like Israel to act in self defense. But there is no question that Hamas' decision to escalate the situation by upgrading its weaponry to Katyushas instead of Qassams, and by targeting Ashkelon instead of Sderot, was done intentionally, and with the specific intent of broadening the conflict. There is also no question that Hamas knew, in advance, that there would be civilian casualties on both sides of the conflict.

 

And so the question arises: Why would Hamas want to escalate the conflict and what does this say about Gaza's role in the wider conflict between the West and the Muslim world? To a certain extent, the struggle in Gaza is indicative of much broader trends. Hamas has concluded, rightly or wrongly, that a persistent and ever increasing attack on Israel is in their best interest. How else can we explain these attacks in the wake of the Israeli pullout from Gaza? Hamas would like to derail the peace process any way it can, even at the expense of its own citizenry? Why?

 

There are strong voices, in parts of the Arab world, which cry out that the struggle against Israel, and the parallel struggle against the West, are the only ways for Islam to resurrect itself, and to assume once again the power and prestige it once enjoyed. And Gaza is becoming a symbol of that struggle.

 

It does not take a brain surgeon to fathom the causes of resentment in parts of the Arab world:

  • It is the resentment that comes from a loss of power and prestige.
  • It is the resentment that comes from extreme poverty with little hope for a better day.
  • It is the resentment that comes from being unable to compete, in a world that seems to be passing you by.
  • It is the resentment that comes from political and religious oppression, and an inability to speak out.
  • It is the resentment that comes from the perceived hypocrisy of free societies supporting repressive regimes.
  • It is the resentment that comes from having the "infidel" occupy your lands.
  • It is the resentment that comes from having an unwelcome quest in your midst.
  • It is the resentment that comes from seeing your cultural identity disintegrate before your eyes.
  • It is the resentment that comes from searching for the soul of Islam, and not knowing which path to follow.
  • It is the resentment that comes from shouting out your deeply held beliefs, to a world that is not inclined to hear.
  • It is the resentment that comes from loving God, and not knowing if He really cares.

And Gaza is becoming the embodiment of Arab resistance, and of the collective decision to lash out in response. The problem is that in the long run, the policies pursued by Hamas, and by other extremists, will not work for them, or for their people. Israel is strong and will use her strength to defend her people. And so too will the West at large, as it defends itself against violent Jihad. Violence will not bring justice, but will only perpetuate itself, at the expense of the people on the street.

 

If Hamas seeks justice, which remains an open question, then it will declare a truce, and find a way to partner with Israel to create a state, and to create good paying jobs, for the sake of the people. If Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel as its ultimate purpose, then Israel will have no choice but to meet the challenge with even more destruction. No civilized society would do any less for its citizenry.

 

If Hamas chooses to cultivate its pursuit of death, then it will be up to the people to tell them, "No." And as Gaza goes, so too will go a good measure of the Middle East. And in the final analysis, it will be up to the good and simple man on the street to once again utter the word, "No." But it remains for Israel, and for the West, to make the case as to why he should take the risk.